Dallas County Residents Must Shelter In Place

  • Dallas County Clay Jenkins will issue a shelter in place order at 5:30 p.m., effective at midnight March 23 and lasting until April 3.
  • Residents must stay home unless engaged in an essential activity, or working for an essential business
  • Non-essential businesses will close or must offer employees work-from-home options
  • Jenkins announces a third death in Dallas County, a 60-something patient
  • Without drastic measures, COVID-19 patients will overwhelm local hospitals by April 13

Despite pleas from Dallas city and county officials, as well as the hospital industry, Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday afternoon that he would not be issuing a “shelter in place” order just yet.

Abbott said that he is “governor of 254 counties in the state of Texas. More than 200 of those counties still have zero cases testing positive.”

But he said he would applaud local governments who opted to issue their own orders, based on their situations.

“Cases are increasing in places like Dallas, Houston, and other areas. What may be right in urban areas may not be right in counties that have zero cases,” Abbott said, adding that he’d rather see if strict compliance to the current standard – which limits gatherings to 10 or fewer in most cases – would slow down the spread.

“If you don’t have an essential reason to be leaving your home, you shouldn’t leave your home,” he said.

Both Abbott and state health services commissioner John Hellerstedt were clear that social distancing would be important, with Hellerstedt saying that the state is in the early stages of community spread.

“The peak depends on our ability to prevent the spread,” he said. “If we’re successful that peak may be some weeks or months away.”

Abbott said that if people failed to cooperate, there could be tickets and fines issued.

“A month from now, nobody is going to be saying, ‘Thank God I was able to go to work for an extra two weeks.’  They’ll be saying, ‘I wish my community would have acted sooner.'” – Clay Jenkins

Just a few hours after Dallas County reported 36 new cases (bringing the total number of cases of the novel coronavirus in the county to 131) and a second death, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins Sunday issued a “Stay Safe, Stay at Home” order.

At that point, a third person, a 60-something patient, had died.

“It makes me sick we’re at this point,” he said. “The numbers tell me we must act swiftly.”

That order requires all individuals everywhere in the county to shelter in place, with the exception of essential activities. Businesses can continue operations if their workers can work at home, unless the business is deemed an essential business.

“We would like people to first take their temperature at home before they come in to work at an essential business,” Jenkins said, but added that he would like those businesses to also take employee’s temperatures as they enter the business as well.

Essential activities include grocery shopping, doctor’s visits, and picking up medications and supplies at pharmacies. Residents can leave to care or supplies for other people, such as elderly family members or children, or even pets.

Restaurants are allowed to remain open if they offer to-go only, whether by curbside, drive-through, or pick up.

Grocery stores will remain open. “I know this order is going to worry people,” Jenkins said. “We have to eat, we have to have food.”

“The supply chain is working fine, if we’ll stop hoarding items,” he added.

Additionally, all public or private gatherings of any number of people outside a single household or living unit are prohibited. Religious services may only be by video or teleconferences now, and in-person staff should be limited to 10 or fewer.

Essential businesses include:

  • Essential healthcare operations such as hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and blood banks
  • Essential government functions
  • Essential critical infrastructure
  • Essential retail
  • Businesses that provide basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations
  • News media
  • Essential services necessary to keep a home running, such as trash service, plumbers, or electricians
  • Childcare services

“There are aspects of this you’re not going to like – there are aspects of it I don’t like,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins said that when someone sees people grouped too closely together, they should issue a simple and gentle reminder – “six feet.”

“I want us to be gracious and compassionate to one another,” he said.

Jenkins and Dallas County Health and Human Services director Philip Huang explained that without drastic measures, COVID-19 patients could overwhelm hospitals quite soon – by April 13.

Jenkins acknowledged that the order would be tough for everyone, but that he felt it was the best step.

“This is going to spread across the state,” he said. “A month from now, nobody is going to be saying, ‘Thank God I was able to go to work for an extra two weeks.’

“They’ll be saying, ‘I wish my community would have acted sooner.'”

On Sunday, Dallas mayor Eric Johnson penned a letter to Abbott asking him to issue a shelter-in-place order. The letter, signed by several local hospital representatives, including Medical City Dallas president Erol Akdamar, Texas Health Resources CEO Barclay Berdan, Parkland Health and Hospital System CEO Dr. Frederick Cerise, and Dallas County Medical Society president Dr. Mark Casanova, outlined the concerns the city and its hospitals had regarding the ability to care for an increased influx of COVID-19 patients.

“We believe a statewide approach to limiting non-essential business or commerce – rather than allowing a patchwork of regulations in neighboring cities and counties – is imperative to slowing the spread of COVID-19, which does not stop at county lines or city limits,” the letter reads.

Abbott said that 566 people in Texas have presumptive positive tests, but that the number didn’t jibe with the state’s daily disclosures exclude an unknown number of those tests, which say at least 355 people have tested positive. Abbott said that when presumptive positive tests are added to confirmed tests, the total reaches 566.

Abbott said that at least 8,756 tests have been administered, almost 600 percent more than Tuesday’s 1,268.

While Abbott stopped short of issuing more restrictions, he did issue two new executive orders, one directing all licensed healthcare facilities to postpone elective surgeries, and another that allows hospitals to treat more than one patient in a room, allowing for hospitals to increase their capacity for novel coronavirus patients.

“Together these orders will free up countless hospital beds across the entire state of Texas to be able to treat the potential increase in COVID-19 patients,” he said.

He also announced that he was forming a “strike force” to help address the lag in the supply chain for personal protective equipment and testing equipment.

Abbot named Keith Miears, senior vice president of worldwide procurement at Dell Technologies, to serve as supply chain director, and former State Rep. John Zerwas will assist with hospital relations and preparedness. Clint Harp, vice president of transmission strategic services for the Lower Colorado River Authority will assist with asset research and procurement, and Elaine Mendoza, chair of the A&M Board of Regents,  will assist with statewide child care infrastructure for critical workers.

Abbott also joined other governors and officials in asking the federal government to accelerate the supply, too.

“There are delivery dates in July. That’s not going to work,” he said. “We need it tomorrow. The next day. And we have ready money today for anybody who can sell PPE to us. We’ll cut you a check on the spot.”

The Dallas County amended order is below.

Updated Amended Order March 23 (002) by PeopleNewspapersDallas on Scribd

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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